Late work is nightmare for some ICC neighbors

By Katherine Shaver
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 18, 2010

The first night the rumbling from the Intercounty Connector construction kept him awake, Fred Begosh said he grew so desperate that he drove a half-mile to a quiet church parking lot and spent two long hours trying to sleep in his Oldsmobile.

The second night, Begosh said, he packed a bag and took the Maryland State Highway Administration up on its offer of a complimentary hotel stay.

During the past two weeks, Begosh has slept four nights in a Gaithersburg hotel. One night, he came across one of his Derwood neighbors in the hotel lobby. She, too, had had enough.

"The noise was insane," Begosh said. "The house was vibrating. It was brutal."

Ten of Begosh's neighbors from the Winters Run subdivision joined him at Montgomery County hotels between Sept. 8 and 15 as crews paved and painted stripes on part of the 18.8-mile highway's westernmost section, ICC officials said. Hundreds more living near the 1.5-mile stretch between Shady Grove Road and Olde Mill Run endured the all-night noise in their own beds.

State officials said the paving is noisy because workers use giant vibrating rollers to compact the earth -- and there's the cacophony generated by the engines of the huge trucks and construction equipment.

The ICC has long been plagued by its proximity to -- and effects upon -- densely populated Montgomery and northwestern Prince George's County, but the past two weeks have been among the most irritating for many who have lived with the construction for more than two years. Some residents said their homes vibrated so much because of the noisy earth-pounding equipment that dishes rattled in cupboards and teapots shook on stoves.

"Just as you're dozing off, you hear 'Bang! Crash!' and then you can't get to sleep because you keep expecting to hear it again," said Ruth Hepner, one of Begosh's neighbors. Hepner declined the state's hotel offer because she didn't want to leave her home.

Impacts on nearby neighborhoods, along with environmental concerns and the project's costs, blocked the ICC's construction for 50 years. ICC officials say they understand residents' irritation and let those within 500 feet know when the relatively unusual overnight work is planned. But Begosh and Hepner, whose homes are so close to the ICC that their back yards are now bordered by a concrete sound wall, said they had no warning.

Most construction takes place Mondays through Saturdays between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., officials said, but contractors are permitted to work around the clock. When work will occur on a Sunday or overnight, a "community outreach" team sends e-mails to neighborhood associations and leaves fliers on doorknobs, the officials said. The contractor is required to give residents a two-day break after five consecutive late nights.

At a $189 daily rate, residents' hotel costs over the past two weeks totaled $6,500. It will be paid by the contractor, said Ray Feldmann, the project's coordinator of community outreach, and it doesn't change the cost of what the state will pay for the project.

"Sometimes you just don't know how loud noise will be in a community" until work begins, he said. "We try to avoid [overnight work] when we can, but sometimes it's just unavoidable."

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